Painful postponement of UNILAG convocation
The lingering war of attrition between the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council Dr Wale Babalakin (SAN) and the management of the University of Lagos took a sour, drastic, and unfortunate turn last week when the 51stconvocation, scheduled to commence on Monday the 9th of March, was deferred.
The postponement order was at the behest of the Federal Ministry of Education through the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC). The directive followed a complaint from the chairman of the council that the ‘convocation ceremonies were not approved by the Governing Council in line with the laws of the university’. It seems that the minister acted by fiat simply on account of the chairman’s complaint without giving the management the opportunity to defend itself. Underneath this claim to non-adherence to laws is a vicious power play between the council chairman and the vice-chancellor. Acrimony has been a recurring decimal in the relationship between the council chairman and the management, which we commented on last year.
Here, we confront a now-familiar scenario, which had played itself out in some institutions once held sacred. For example, the reputation of the judiciary is in disrepute on account of alleged and perceived official corruption and the penchant of the executive branch to force issues.
In the states, serious legislation is rare in the Houses of Assembly because they are firmly in the pockets of governors. Some persons who seek appointments cringe and fawn with humiliating and disgraceful obsequiousness before appointing authorities. Once such persons secure positions, they invariably fall for anything because they are void of principles. Some professors are also guilty of such disgraceful behavior. Men of character and strength ought to run the affairs of our institutions. We always stand for the rule of law as a newspaper. We are persuaded that the proper procedure should always be followed. Yet, rigidity and pettiness over personal recognition cannot be equated with standing up for rules. It is unbecoming. It is unfortunate.
To be sure, the University of Lagos stakeholders were nonplussed by the sad development, which came barely four days to the commencement of the ceremony. An emergency meeting of the University Senate held on 4thof March, enjoined, “Council to urgently take all necessary steps to ensure the 2019 Convocation ceremonies hold as scheduled”, stating that the “goodwill the University has always enjoyed and (its) current ranking as Number one in Nigeria and Number eight in Africa will be adversely affected by any disruptions”. This appeal, sadly, fell on deaf ears. The council issued a news flash stating that the vice-chancellor proceeded to hold a press conference without “deeming it fit to address the serious concerns and legal issues he (chairman of the council) raised in his letter”. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) UNILAG Chapter, has taken strong exception to what it describes as “the calamitous postponement of a convocation ceremony without any consideration for the psychological trauma this may cause”. ASUU has gone a step further. It passed a vote of no confidence in Dr. Babalakin and declared him ‘persona non grata’ to the university. In light of the above, how can the continuous chairmanship of Dr. Babalakin ensure peace and harmony at the University of Lagos?
The thinking across the land has been: why was this matter not resolved internally in line with the much-vaunted university autonomy? Why was the Federal Ministry of Education dragged into a strictly-University of Lagos affair? What is the cause of the bad blood between the chairman of council and management? What does this portend for academic freedom and independence? What role, if any, has the pro-chancellor in determining the processes of convocation? How true is Dr. Babalakin’s claim that the council did not approve the convocation? How does this draconian approach, reminiscent of our days under the military jackboots, help the already battered image of the university system in Nigeria?
The university convocation is a solemn ceremony, the high point of a student’s stint in a university. It is an academic ceremony where the chancellor confers or awards degrees to persons who have been found ‘worthy in character and learning’. At issue is what extent should the council chairman attempt to micro-manage the affairs of the university. The council chairman’s contention that he was not briefed on the potential awardees seems to be given a lie to by the minutes of two meetings he presided over. The minutes make it clear that names were presented, and the management was directed to liaise with a specific council member with details of potential awardees. Credibility and presentation of facts are at stake. If the minutes of the meeting are evidence, somebody has been economical with the truth. In saner climes, resignation would be an honourable option. Telling lies with statistics to score a cheap point in an ivory tower is unbecoming.
All stakeholders at the University of Lagos should be aware that the academic future of the university lies in the quality of contemporary decisions. Inflated egos should not get in the way of progress. Such persons often elevate themselves into a deistic pantheon through acts of omission and commission.
It is, therefore, our considered view that convocation details, in accordance with the Statute of the University of Lagos do not come under the purview of the chairman of council. We are patently concerned with an erosion of the dignity of institutions as epitomized by the convocation debacle. There ought to have been a consideration for parents and their wards. The university itself must have made some irrevocable commitments that would have to be re-incurred before the next exercise. People in authorities should note this inconvenient truth: our universities and institutions need to be protected from the shenanigans of politicians who manage to defile sacred altars wherever they find them. The University of Lagos is a brand, which has high equity even in a global context. Its name and integrity must not be compromised through pettiness and petulance.
Finally, we call on all officeholders especially in our universities to respect the sanctity and rules of engagement in public office. The purpose of service in the university is to enhance growth and provide an atmosphere that would be conducive to learning and research. Anything less is tantamount to killing the university idea!